UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Thursday led international outrage at the growing number of journalists killed in the line of duty amid widespread calls for greater protection for reporters.
Ban told a World Press Freedom Day event at the UN headquarters that journalists now face “dire threats” and highlighted that more than 60 were killed in 2011.
Amid international tributes to journalists such as Marie Colvin of the United States and Remi Ochlik of France who were killed in the Syrian protest city of Homs in March, some press freedom groups say this year could see an even worse media death toll.
Farhan Jeemis Abdulle, a radio reporter, was shot dead by gunmen in Somalia on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, police said. Abdulle was the fifth Somali journalist gunned down this year.
The UN secretary general said “countless” reporters “face intimidation, harassment and censorship at the hands of governments, corporations and powerful individuals seeking to preserve their power or hide wrongdoings and misdeeds.”
“Impunity for those who attack or threaten journalists remains disturbingly prevalent – including for assaults carried out in broad daylight, delivering the most brutal of messages.
“Such attacks are outrageous. I call on all concerned to prevent and prosecute such violence,” Ban said.
Reporters Without Borders said that 22 reporters and six bloggers and “citizen journalists” have already been killed since the start of the year.
According to Reporters Without Borders, five journalists have been killed in Somalia this year, four in Syria – including Colvin and Ochlik – two each in Bangladesh, Brazil and India, and one in Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand.
The UN general Assembly held a minute’s silence for journalists killed for their work.
“The first quarter of 2012 has clearly shown that the world’s predators of the freedom to inform, led by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Somalia’s Islamist militias, are capable of behaving like outright butchers,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The press freedom group also said that more than 280 journalists and bloggers have been imprisoned this year, including 32 in Eritrea, 30 in China and 27 in Iran and 14 in Syria. But five have been detained in Azerbaijan, which is the UN Security Council president for May.
Ban and press freedom groups have sought to stress the role of the media, and particularly the new social media, in covering the uprisings in Libya, Egypt and Syria over the past 18 months.
“Those new voices and new modes of communication have helped millions of people gain, for the first time, the chance at democracy and opportunities that had been denied to them for so long,” Ban said.
Several governments also highlighted the role of the press from which they so often come under attack.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said the media death toll this year was “appalling”.
“Today we remember them all, including Sunday Times Journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, who died bringing us the truth about what is happening to the people of Homs,” Hague said in a statement.
France’s Foreign minister Alain Juppe also paid tribute to Ochlik and two other French reporters and photographers killed in the Arab uprisings. But he also highlighted the case of Romeo Langlois, a France 24 broadcast journalist, abducted in Colombia last weekend.
The Freedom House rights group said the Middle East and North Africa experienced “dramatic if precarious gains” in press freedom last year after the uprisings. But it added that Bahrain and Syria launched “harsh media crackdowns” as part of government crackdowns on uprisings.
The group said that China, Russia and Iran have kept a tight grip on the media by detaining critics and shutting down media outlets.